Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante is Player of the Year, Bale red sums up Real Madrid slump: Weekend talking points

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Ahead of another weekend of European football, Thomas Woods casts his eye over some of the biggest talking points.

Liverpool have blown their top-four chance

Two months ago, Liverpool were being talked about as the most realistic title challengers to runaway Premier League leaders Chelsea. Fast forward to the start of March, title talk has made way for hope of just making the top four, and subsequent qualification for next season’s Uefa Champions League.

It looks like they are the outsiders with Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Manchester United better set to fight it out. Liverpool are still fifth, a point ahead of United and only four points behind second-placed Spurs. But it is their propensity for a woeful defeat — the losses at Hull City and Leicester City for example — that is worrying.

Their upcoming fixture list does not give much hope given their current form. Liverpool host Arsenal on Saturday, and Burnley a week later before a trip to City and a home match against Everton. It’s a run from which they may not recover.

Last chance for Roma

The fight for Champions League places in Serie A looks set to be a cracker, but the title race could be over by the end of the weekend.

Second-placed Roma were fantastic when they won 3-1 at Inter Milan last week. They are a superb team, full of top-class players like Mohammed Salah, Radja Nainggolan and Daniele de Rossi, and yet they are still seven points behind the juggernaut that is Juventus.

Roma have scored more goals than Juve, but it is the champions’ ability to avoid draws that stands them apart. Juve have lost four games to Roma’s five, but have yet to draw this season.

So how can Roma close down the deficit? Part 1: beat third-placed Napoli in what should be another brilliant game to watch on Saturday. Part 2: hope Juve slip-up in upcoming games against AC Milan, Napoli and Atlanta who are all in the top seven. Part 3: beat Juve in the third-to-last game at the Stadio Olimpico.

Kante should be Player of the Year in England

In hindsight, N’Golo Kante should have been given the Player of the Year award last season, ahead of his Leicester City teammates Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.

The attacking pair grabbed headlines, but Leicester’s 2016/17 season without Kante has demonstrated what an asset the French midfielder was. It was basically only because he did the job of two men in midfield that Mahrez in particular had so much attacking freedom.

Kante has been pivotal to Chelsea’s charge towards the title. Last Saturday’s game against Swansea City was a prime example of his energy — he was everywhere and helped drive a slightly below-par Chelsea to victory. It’s not fashionable to pick a defensive midfielder for the top award, especially when three strikers — Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane — are tied on 17 goals with Diego Costa one goal back and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on 15, but Kante deserves it.

What was Bale thinking?

Gareth Bale’s actions on Wednesday night summed up the frustrated mood around Real Madrid over the past week.

The Welsh forward, who has only just returned from three months out injured, was sent off in Madrid’s surprise 3-3 home draw with Las Palmas. And he made sure he was sent off. Already on a yellow card, he lost the ball and lashed out at Jonathan Viera, had another kick at him and then tried to push him over. It was totally out of character for Bale, but then so has been Madrid’s sudden loss of form.

They lost at Valencia three games ago, they should have lost at Villarreal on Saturday but for a dodgy penalty decision that sparked a comeback win.

Madrid had a one-point lead over Barcelona with two games in hand — they are now second by a point with just one game in hand. They seem to be surrendering the title.

Hiddink the right man for Leicester

Premier League champions Leicester City seem to be keen on former England manager Roy Hodgson as their new manager, but appointing him would be a mistake.

They should be considering Guus Hiddink, the Dutch manager who has twice come in at short notice and saved Chelsea seasons. He replaced Luis Felipe Scolari in February 2009 and led Chelsea to the FA Cup, losing just once in his reign.

Last season he replaced Jose Mourinho and helped steer Chelsea to stability. The 70-year-old Dutchman is one of the world’s best managers and he is adept at coming into a club and getting results quickly. Whatever he costs, Leicester should pay it or risk relegation.

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